15 Lessons for Outsourcing your Chat to Hired Agents

Just shy of 90 days ago, we launched the “Hire-an-Agent” BETA which allows businesses to hire native english speaking agents to answer chats on their behalf for just $1/hr.

This is a wrap of our Key learnings over the first 90 days.

We launched the service for three reasons :

  1. As a “test” method to monetize the Free tawk.to messaging App
  2. We recognized that the most prohibitive element of adding live chat to a website for most businesses isn’t the software itself, though in reality it is the cost of staffing to answer chats 24×7 – so we wanted to try and solve that problem by bringing the cost down to $1/hr.
  3. At our core, we are a team of software developers – so offering a human-powered (non scalable) service is a means to get closer to our users, and get exposure to use-cases that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We purposely chose to issue invites to 100 beta customers from different industries; which is helping us to build better software and focus on functionality that will benefit the largest # of users.

As a means of sharing information for both our current clients and anyone considering outsourcing their chat to hired agents, we decided to document a list of key learnings over the first 90 days; and then share, as below :

1. Demand vs Scale

When we initially launched the service, we simply allowed anyone to sign up, and as a result we were both overwhelmed with demand and service suitability. We quickly switched off the ability for anyone to sign up & began restricting the service via an invite beta code system.

This worked to ensure we could limit the # of customers signing up; as well as provide the ability to onboard customers at a pace that we could actually keep up with. We opted to on-board a max of 2 customers per day, ensuring we had the time to manage client expectations correctly as well as collate the pertinent information required for agents to be effective in chat.

The key learning here, is that just as we needed to give ourselves enough time to onboard customers – business owners need to allocate enough time to on-board agents in to their systems and procedures.

2. The importance of On-boarding

Regardless of whom you hire to answer on your behalf, whether it be outsourced or an in-house hire; an agent needs to acquire knowledge on both your product or service and your systems to answer correctly and efficiently on your behalf. We have come to learn that the clients getting the most value out of the beta are definitely those that have been prepared to ensure agents have access to all the information they need prior to answering.

Half way through the first month we launched the new Knowledge Base which gives tawk.to users the ability to add searchable content directly in to the chat so that agents can search for and access any pertinent information whilst chatting with site visitors. Eg: Pricing sheets, FAQ lists, shipping information etc.

3. Agent’s don’t need to know everything

The biggest misconception most of our clients had when first signing up, was that an agent would need to know the answer to a question before a visitor came in to chat. The truth in most cases however, is that a good agent simply needs to know where to find the answer, versus having to store endless amounts of FAQ’s in their head.

Being a successful chat agent, has less to do with the ability to chat quickly and type perfectly, than it does with an agent’s willingness to connect and build meaningful relationships with other human beings and be organized enough to ensure they have access to the information needed to respond fast enough to not degrade the visitor experience.

This is a snippet taken from our agent handbook :

You are NOT expected to know everything about the customer’s business, nor are you expected to be able to memorize answers to every question that a visitor could possibly ask.

You ARE expected to know how to be a master at conversation flow, memorize the standard shortcut set, and know where to find the answers to most questions.

4. Consistency of Shortcuts

If you are a tawk.to user, and you are not using shortcuts then you are making your life much harder than it really needs to be. You can create, and use Shortcuts (canned responses) to answer common questions by simply typing / followed by a keyword. For example you could type /hello to quickly send the visitor the text: “Hello, how can we help you today?

The only way that we are able to offer live answering services at an impossibly low rate of $1/hr is by training agents to be able to answer on behalf of multiple clients, so that clients share the cost of the agent’s time. Hence, regardless of which site the agent is answering for they need only to remember the appropriate shortcut response as opposed to having to know the actual answer.

Example :

Site 1 – 

  • Visitor asks : How much does shipping cost?
    Agent types : /shipping-cost
    Agent answers : 
    The cost of shipping is $15 anywhere in North America, for international orders you would need to obtain a shipping estimate by emailing shipping@******.com

Site 2 – 

  • Visitor asks : How much does shipping cost?
    Agent types  : /shipping-cost
    Agent answers : 
    You have to put the products inside the cart then click the button “Shipping Calculator” on the right (Green Button says “Shipping Calculator”) Choose your Shipping Country and you will see the shipping Method available for your Country and the price.

So regardless of the site the agent is answering on behalf of, the agent simply needs to know where to find the right answer to the question or simply remember which shortcut to use, across all sites; which has had a custom crafted response for that specific site.

5. Not every client is a Perfect Fit

Even though we vetted every single customer that were issued a Beta Invite code, we still came to realize that some client sites simply aren’t a fit for outsourcing to Hired Agents.

We initially on-boarded 100 customers, of which 94 have remained customers; and are happily continuing the service. Several initially signed up for the 40/hour a week plan, though have since upgraded to the 24×7-365 plan as they immediately recognized the value and benefit in having trained agents to service their customers at all times.

The 6 customers that canceled the Hired Agent service, did so for the following reasons :

  1. (2 clients ) Not enough traffic to warrant having agents available. If there is no traffic on a site, then there is no chance for us to chat with visitors.
  2. (1 client ) High % of non-english visitors. We currently only offer services in English, so the service wasn’t a fit for this site as most of their visitors needed assistance in Italian or Spanish.
  3. (1 client ) Unhappy with the quality of agent responses. In all fairness, the client expected our agents to give financial advice which was out of the scope of our service offering.
  4. (2 clients ) Misunderstood the service . These clients only wanted to pay for the time that agents were actually answering, not for their availability. We bill based on when a client schedules an agent to be online.

6. No Traffic = No Value

A business is only ever going to see true value in hiring agents to answer on their behalf, if they have enough traffic to warrant the need for live chat.

In some instances, even 1 chat a day can result in 30+ leads a month; which for a business like a Car Dealership still makes for an incredibly valuable proposition.

However, for sites that are simply providing customer support; if the site has no traffic then the perceived value is limited.

7. Don’t underestimate the Value of “Being there”

We initially thought the most value customers would attain from outsourcing their chat 24×7 to hired agents, would be the increase in sales or leads generated – though we quickly came to realize that there are many ancillary benefits including :

  • Decrease in negative reviews – If a customer has a complaint, and they can not reach you – then they tend to vent publicly on social media. By offering a channel like live chat, directly on your site; a customer can vent to you directly; saving the public embarrassment of negative reviews.
  • Decrease in charge backs – Anyone that runs an e-commerce site knows the pain of dealing with charge backs. They are a part of doing business, though often a charge back can be resolved if caught in time. On one particular customer site, we have managed to decrease their customer charge backs by a whopping 40%; by simply being available for customers to get support after making a purchase.
  • Increase in Customer Confidence = More sales – We found that on sites where a customer is making a purchase decision that is going to require after-sales support; conversion rates increased from visitors even if they did not initiate a chat. It took us a while to work it out, though we managed to recognize that customers are more confident in purchasing on a site that has Live Chat as a method of communication; even if they don’t use it prior to making a purchase. When split-testing campaigns, and then surveying customers as to why they decided to buy from that particular site, the recurring theme was that they felt more comfortable buying from a site that offered live chat as they knew if they did need support that it would be available.

8. Access to Tools directly in Chat

If you want your agents to be successful, then they must have access to all the information they need directly in the chat window – without having to leave the dashboard. Forcing an agent to go outside of the dashboard to different urls, to find answers or execute specific actions (processing an order, or submitting a refund etc) is cumbersome and wastes more time than is necessary, which results in a degraded visitor experience.

One of the key new functions that we built in to the dashboard since launching the Hire-An-Agent service, is the “TABS” feature; which allows you to pull in any 3rd party url directly in to the dashboard as a Tab in the details pane. This makes it super-easy to integrate things like product catalogues, lead capture forms or even 3rd party CRMs to look up customer details and process refunds or payments.

We have found that by giving agents access to the tools they need, in-context; directly in the chat window  – then they become incredibly efficient ensuring the visitor gets their questions answered and request executed directly in chat.

9. Chat volumes may be different than you expect

Several of our clients first came on board, thinking that they have very low chat volumes after-hours, as they had historically only had their chat widget scheduled to be online during their business hours.

What we found is that once the chat was turned on 24-7 and agents were made available, visitors (and hence Leads) started to come in to chat at all hours of the day.

This is often the case for B2B  service offerings; as small business owners are often servicing their own customers by working in their own business during the day, and then working on their business at night – which is when they seek out suppliers and solutions to problems.

10. Search is Success

Nothing is more stressful for an agent, when they can’t find the answer to a question; even though they know it exists somewhere in the shortcuts.

When searching for a shortcut, you can now add a (?) question mark after the standard “/” key to search through the content of all shortcuts.

/?keyword – would search for keyword in the entire shortcut content.

Giving agents the power tools they need to search and find the answer to a question, is paramount to their success.

11. Know the Tool

As with item #10 above, an agent must know the power of the tool they are using.

Regardless of whether you decide to hire tawk.to agents for $1/hr or you decide to hire agents in-house to answer on your behalf; the efficiency and quality of an agent will largely be dependent on how well versed they are in the application itself. |

Especially if you are using in-house agents, be sure to give your agents the time to really get to know the tool (tawk.to) they are using to communicate with your customers. They must first become experts in the software, before they can navigate the conversational experience with prowess.

12. Find bugs and Better UX

A wise developer once told us that a sure-fire way to find a bug in software, is to ship to production.

Even though you used spell-check, tested your site on all modern browsers, and even sent it out to all of your friends before launching – by adding live chat to your website, be prepared to receive a bunch of feedback from users who are experiencing bugs that you will kick yourself for not recognizing.

No usability testing can compare to real world usage, when users do things on your site (from devices) that you could never have imagined.

A notable benefit many of our customers have experienced is the ability to receive and document real time feedback about their website, recognizing bugs and issues that visitors face during check-out.

13. Document visitor FAQ’s

If 20 customers a day come in to chat and ask “What is your Exchange/Refund Policy, if the shoes don’t fit?” – then it is pretty clear that you need to modify the text on your website to let users know the answer to that question.

By documenting FAQ’s for clients, we have managed to help them iterate the copy on their website to ensure visitors questions are answered before they even need to initiate a chat; resulting in higher conversions and better informed purchase decisions for your visitors.

14. Human powered services, mean real human errors

No matter how much we iterate the service and systems with aim to perfect the agent experience – we have come to the realization that humans will make mistakes.

There is no way getting around that fact.

Whether that means a chat was missed, or a response to a visitor question was less than perfect, or we simply didn’t manage to close a lead or sale as well as we could have.

The reality of human powered services, is that we are not “bots”. Hence, there has to be a reasonable expectation and realization that there is going to be human error.

15. There is no “One size fits all” when it comes to Customer Service

Every business is different – even if you operate in a crowded niche where competitors sell very similar products and services; the way in-which you communicate with your customers can often be enough of a differentiator to set you apart.

We have come to realize that “Good Customer Service” is truly NOT a given in certain industries – so when a particular client launched 24×7 support for their customers, it was welcomed (and applauded) by website visitors.

The key learning here, is that if your competitors do not offer 24×7-365 support for their customers, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. In fact, it will give you an edge over your competition if you do.

Nobody in business history disrupted a market by just copying their competitors sales tactics.


In conclusion :

Over the past 90 days we have on-boarded 100 customers working in 100 different industries, and successfully answered more than 100,000 chats on behalf of those customers; we have managed to iterate both our systems and our software as a direct result.

The more chats we answer, and the more different use-cases we are exposed to; the more insight we gain to build better software for the 700,000+ agents that are answering themselves.

We will be issuing new invite codes to on-board 100 new customers on April 1st, for the second quarter. If you are interested in hiring an agent to answer on your behalf for $1/hr, please register your interest here.

 

 

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